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TEACHING Exceptional Children, Vol. 49, No. 4, pp. 284­–293. Copyright 2017 The Author(s). DOI: 10.

1177/0040059916685065
Co-Teaching

Margo A. Mastropieri
Thomas E. Scruggs and
Co-Teaching
Work With
Making Inclusion
Mrs. Cataldo, a first-year special Specific policies and legislation (e.g., students with special education needs,
education teacher, was recently Individuals With Disabilities Education as time and circumstances permitted.
assigned to support several of the Act, No Child Left Behind Act of 2001) Various models of co-teaching that rely
students on her caseload through have included mandates—such as on both teachers taking an active role in
co-teaching in a third-grade inclusive serving students with disabilities in the the classroom have been proposed over
classroom. Mrs. Cataldo is excited and least restrictive environment in which the years (e.g., L. Cook & Friend, 1995),
eager to talk with her co-teacher, Mr. their needs can be met and providing but co-teachers continue to report
Smith, about the various ways that they access to the general curriculum and concerns about unequal partnerships.
can deliver instruction. However, Mr. highly qualified teachers—that set the Therefore many teachers, and especially
Smith has been teaching for 15 years, conditions for which the logic of new special education teachers, can
and he has not had much experience co-teaching was a perfect match. benefit from important information
with implementing co-teaching. He tells Students with disabilities could receive about how to effectively implement
Mrs. Cataldo that she can best support services primarily, if not exclusively, in co-teaching.
in the classroom by working with the general education classroom, where
students one-on-one or by pulling small they would have full access to the
groups of students to a side table to general curriculum and highly qualified Promising Practices for
Co-Teaching
help them with independent work. To content-area teachers yet also receive
make matters more challenging, Mrs. supports appropriate to their special For co-teaching to be truly effective,
Cataldo teaches students in her resource educational needs from a special several substantive changes may be
room during Mr. Smith’s planning time, education teacher. Thus, schools began necessary in the general education
so they will have little extended time to arranging for special and general classroom. Although co-teaching
discuss or plan for collaboration. Mrs. educators to work together, sometimes introduces two skilled teachers to a
Cataldo knows that there are several within a single classroom, in order to single classroom—which cuts the
ways co-teachers can work together to meet the needs of all students while student–teacher ratio in half and in
benefit all students and especially to
provide individualized and intensive
support for students with disabilities,
Certain problems remain that need to be
but she is not sure how to approach the
issue with Mr. Smith. She does not addressed in any co-teaching arrangement.
want to offend a veteran teacher, yet
she is confident there are more effective
ways for them to collaborate. simultaneously providing individualized theory increases the amount of
supports to students with disabilities attention and instruction each student
Beginning special education teachers (Will, 1986). Heightened efforts to receives—co-teaching unto itself is not
today are highly likely to be asked to include students with disabilities in an intervention. Rather, it is a service
co-teach with general education teachers general education classes has created a delivery model, or a framework for
at some point in their career. The need for a new level of collaboration providing specialized services to
challenges faced by Mrs. Cataldo and Mr. among general and special educators. students with disabilities, in a general
Smith are common for many teachers, In spite of the overall generally education context. It is what the two
but they can be especially daunting for positive attitudes toward inclusion and teachers do and how they do it that can
new special education teachers who do co-teaching, and a degree of support for make co-teaching effective for students
not have years of experience or success its effectiveness, certain problems with disabilities.
stories to share with their new teaching remain that need to be addressed in any Identifying optimal roles to best meet
partners. Besides supporting their co-teaching arrangement. In their the needs of students with disabilities
students, new special education teachers review of qualitative studies describing within the context of a co-taught
may be tasked with persuading their over 400 co-taught classrooms, Scruggs, classroom is the key to effective
colleagues to try out both new methods Mastropieri, and McDuffie (2007) co-teaching. However, the general
of collaboration and unfamiliar models reported that the most common overall education teacher is responsible mostly
of instructional delivery. model of co-teaching, by far, was that of for content and curriculum planning and
Although it might be challenging to a general education teacher in charge of instruction, whereas the special
elicit buy-in from some co-teaching a traditionally taught classroom, using education teacher is mostly responsible
partners, the idea of co-teaching to whole-class methods, with the special for evaluating problems in classroom
support students with disabilities is not education teacher in a subordinate role, learning and social behavior and
new. Approaches to team teaching were providing support for classroom providing strategies and interventions for
described in the 1960s (Beggs, 1964), routines (e.g., passing out papers) and addressing these problems. Managing
and co-teaching formally emerged about task-specific support (e.g., assistance on these responsibilities while collaborating
40 years later in response to federal laws. a particular worksheet problem) for seamlessly in a single classroom for a

TEACHING Exceptional Children  |  March/April 2017  285


diverse group of students can require a Mastropieri et al., 2005). More many potential problems can be
great deal of skill, commitment, and specifically, special education teachers overcome.
trust—it is no surprise that the idea of a can increase the success of their
Planning.  The special education
co-teaching relationship has been co-teaching experiences by
and general education teacher must be
compared to a “dance” (Murawski & communicating effectively, maximizing
able to plan together so that they can
Dieker, 2013) or even a “marriage” their planning time, and mastering
successfully execute effective
(Murawski, 2009). Although there are content knowledge.
instruction in a co-taught classroom.
many co-teaching skills and practices to
Communication.  Good Ideally, both teachers would share
learn, new special education teachers
communication skills are required to common planning times throughout
may benefit most from focusing on (a)
develop and maintain an effective the course of a week. However, lack of
engaging in effective collaboration with
co-teaching relationship. Teachers must common planning time, like that Mrs.
their co-teachers and (b) providing
be able to listen to their co-teaching Cataldo and Mr. Smith experienced,
explicit instruction to students with
partner as well as to communicate their has been reported by teachers as one of
disabilities.
own views and suggestions, especially the biggest barriers to successful
during planning time together. co-teaching (Scruggs et al., 2007), and
Practice 1: Effective Collaboration it is a variable over which teachers
Mastropieri and Scruggs (in press; see
Although co-teaching can carry a also Gordon, 2003) discussed the have very little control.
negative connotation, teacher attitudes necessary elements of good Because co-teachers may have limited
about co-teaching have actually been communication: time to plan together, it is important that
generally positive over time. Scruggs and they maximize the time they have
Mastropieri (1996) summarized 28 •• active listening, by taking an active together. Technology may be especially
surveys of over 10,000 general education interest in what the co-teaching helpful for improving the efficiency of
teachers and other personnel conducted partner has to say; co-planning. For example, web-based
between 1958 and 1995 and reported •• depersonalizing situations, by shared documents make it simple for
that over all these surveys, about two avoiding personal commentary and teachers to make notes, plan ahead, and
thirds of teachers supported the concept focusing on the task; communicate about important concerns
of inclusion. These teachers also reported •• finding common goals that are on a single document at different times
they needed more personnel and stated clearly and precisely; in the day. At any time, either teacher
administrative support, suggesting they •• brainstorming possible solutions, at can open the document to see each
may be supportive of co-teaching. first without evaluation and later other’s notes and add their own. For
Scruggs prioritized; example, Google Docs (http://docs.
google.com) could be used by Mrs.
Cataldo and Mr. Smith for co-planning
(e.g., planning lessons; see Figure 1).
Although there are many co-teaching skills and
practices to learn, new special education teachers Mrs. Cataldo was concerned that she
may benefit most from focusing on (a) engaging and Mr. Smith were having difficulty
in effective collaboration with their co-teachers finding time to meet to discuss their plans.
Despite lacking a common planning time,
and (b) providing explicit instruction to students the two teachers agreed it was important
with disabilities. to find a way to work together. Mrs.
Cataldo created a Google Doc they could
use to plan their co-taught lessons. Mrs.
et al. (2007) summarized the findings of •• summarizing goals and solutions Cataldo suggested this forum because it
32 descriptive studies of co-teaching and together, perhaps in writing when allows both teachers to work
reported that teachers overall reported needed; and simultaneously or at different times. Both
positive attitudes toward this practice. •• following up to monitor progress teachers were able to complete their
Although there is limited quantitative and determine whether goals have respective parts of their lesson plans and
evidence about how to best engage in been met. use the comment feature to pose questions,
co-teaching (B. Cook, McDuffie- ideas, and concerns to each other.
Landrum, Oshita, & Cook, 2011), there is Active listening is an important key It is important that co-teachers
qualitative information available about to achieving and maintaining a identify areas to work on, using steps
what general and special education productive co-teaching partnership such as the following:
teachers report to be the most important during which planning and teaching
factors in creating and maintaining a will benefit. If effective communication 1. Have both teachers self-assess their
successful co-teaching relationship (e.g., is established early and maintained, current collaboration (see Figure 2).

286 Council for Exceptional Children


Figure 1.  Sample Co-Teaching Lesson Plan

Co-Teaching Lesson Plan


Lesson focus: Clouds and weather
Learning target: Learn about and present information of different types of clouds and weather
Materials: Science textbook on clouds and weather; websites on clouds and weather
Lesson activities
Activity General education teacher role Special education teacher role
Introduce topic—activate Lead role. Supportive role; provide assistance
prior knowledge and make Think about the last few times you with individuals as needed.
connections have seen clouds in the sky. Think
about what those clouds looked
like and what type of weather was
happening. What size? What shape?
What color?
Next (main lesson, interaction Lead role. Supportive role; provide assistance
with students) Take out your textbooks and iPads. with materials when needed.
Open book to chapter on clouds and
weather and open link to website on
clouds and weather.

Next (mnemonic strategy, peer- Supportive role; provide assistance Lead role.
mediated activity) as needed. Now we will break into groups with
our partners and practice reviewing
the important information on types
of clouds and weather with our
partners.
Formative assessment Supportive role; provide assistance Lead role.
as needed. Next, everyone will describe three
types of clouds with typical weather.
You have a choice of writing or
saying your responses. First partners
will go first, while second partners
listen and evaluate responses.
Other
Common student errors/challenges to look for: Mixing up the names of types of clouds and respective weather
patterns; forgetting the names of types of clouds
Students who may need extra support: Provide additional strategies for retrieving names and definitions of types
of clouds. Provide additional opportunities for practicing new content
Additional strategies to incorporate when appropriate: Provide some vocabulary sheets describing and showing
clouds different clouds and typical weather

2. Compare and discuss self- Content mastery.  Perhaps the the areas of language arts and
assessment results, especially greatest barrier to a fully collaborative mathematics. Although this problem
highlighting differences or growth relationship between general and exists at all grade levels, the content
areas. special education teachers is knowledge gap appears particularly
3. Set goals for new structures or roles knowledge of the content being taught pronounced in secondary content
or practices to implement together. (Scruggs et al., 2007). This is likely due classes. The special education teacher
4. Implement steps to achieve goals. to the fact that traditional preservice must also have knowledge of the
5. Monitor and evaluate, meeting training for special education teachers content being taught in order to
frequently to discuss and adjust is focused on strategy instruction and understand how to evaluate learning
instruction. intense interventions for students in problems with respect to this content

TEACHING Exceptional Children  |  March/April 2017  287


Figure 2.  Co-teaching self-assessment

Instructions: Both co-teaching partners should complete this checklist…then discuss…highlight common areas/strengths
to build on…identify some growth areas…make a plan/set goal…
I listen actively to my teaching partner.   All of the time
  Some of the time
  None of the time
I depersonalize situations and focus on the task at hand.   All of the time
  Some of the time
  None of the time
I work together with my teacher partner to identify common goals.   All of the time
  Some of the time
  None of the time
I work together with my teaching partner to brainstorm and identify   All of the time
possible solutions.   Some of the time
  None of the time
I work together with my teaching partner to identify goals and plans.   All of the time
  Some of the time
  None of the time
I follow-up on goals and plans with my teaching partner to monitor   All of the time
and evaluate progress.   Some of the time
  None of the time

Two goals I have for our co-teaching include:


1.

2.

and to plan and implement •• Selecting a few standards, provides step-by-step video lessons
instructional techniques to address concepts, or skills to focus on about a wide variety of content.
these problems. learning in advance. It may be Professional websites may also have
Clearly, mastering content especially helpful to work with the helpful guides, such as the National
knowledge—especially across multiple general education teacher to choose Council of Teachers of Mathematics
content areas for those who co-teach a areas that students have struggled website (www.nctm.org), which
variety of classes—takes time and with in the past to be more includes such resources as math
intentional effort. Special education prepared to offer individualized lesson plans, practice guides,
teachers looking to enhance their support. practitioner journal articles, and
content knowledge may benefit from •• Accessing available resources that can prerecorded webinars.
the following: aid in learning the content. This may
be as simple as using the student Most teachers—and, perhaps
•• Acquiring a curriculum map from textbook to learn about the content or especially, new teachers—may have
the general education teacher that accessing web-based instructional very limited time for such activities,
outlines what content will be taught resources, such as Khan Academy but by choosing just a few areas to
throughout the school year. (www.khanacademy.org), which focus on each semester, they can

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Table 1.  Common Challenges Faced by Co-Teachers

Challenge Possible solutions

Co-teachers lack a common planning time • Use technology to support collaborative activities
• Identify other potential meeting times, such as open time
in the morning before school begins or release time from
faculty meetings

Special education teacher lacks content knowledge • Special education teacher acquires curriculum map from
general education teacher
• Select prioritized standards, concepts, or skills to focus on
learning in advance
• Access available content, e.g., text and teacher materials,
web-based resources
• Regular meetings, discussions with general education
teacher whenever possible
•  Arrange professional development time

Communication • Active listening


• Identify common goals
• Monitor progress toward meeting goals
•  Establish target person for each goal

Control or “turf” issues • Use effective communication strategies


• Agree to shared responsibility for all students; promote
input from administrators as needed
• Look for and identify common ground
• Establish what is in the best interest of all students,
including those with special needs
• Identify responsibilities to be shared as well as individual
responsibilities

Differences in teaching philosophy • Use effective communication strategies


• Identify common teaching and learning goals
• Use formative evaluation and data-based decision making;
agree to evaluate the appropriateness of individual
instructional strategies or techniques with respect to
learning outcomes
•  Encourage all teachers to participate in IEP meetings

Disagreements about discipline and behavior management • Use effective communication strategies; look for common
ground.
• Use formative evaluation and agree to support strategies
that are associated with positive behavior change
• Examine and implement schoolwide behavior management
strategies

Note. IEP = individualized education program.

acquire deeper content knowledge over Practice 2: Explicit Instruction knowledge that will need to be primed,
time that will help them to better (b) choose the new skills that will likely
support their students and collaborate Given that co-teaching is a service need to be modeled, (b) create
with their general education delivery model, as opposed to an meaningful opportunities for guided
colleagues. intervention, it allows teachers to plan practice, (d) structure opportunities for
Table 1 provides a list of challenges lessons that are grounded in the cycle of independent practice, and (e) provide
faced by co-teachers, such as the direct and explicit instruction. Special immediate and corrective feedback and
content knowledge acquisition, and education teachers can collaborate with specific praise. When planning for and
lists some possible solutions to these their general education co-teacher to (a) providing explicit instruction, the general
challenges. identify critical elements of background education teacher can provide the special

TEACHING Exceptional Children  |  March/April 2017  289


education teacher with the subject instruction in content area material, identify pertinent content and share the
matter and learning targets that are special education teachers can provide materials he would typically use in a
covered in the general curriculum. Then, explicit instruction in peer-mediated given lesson. Then, she could assume
the special education teacher can pair learning, which is an evidence-based responsibility for modifying
that information with the teacher’s practice for many students with information and adapting materials as
specific knowledge of individual student disabilities. In fact, peer mediation is needed. Once Mr. Smith is comfortable
needs and strategies that are likely to one of the most successful inclusion with using peer-mediated instruction,
support students with specific disabilities strategies, one that can benefit the both teachers can assume responsibility
while also ensuring that entire class as much as individual for monitoring implementation of
accommodations in each student’s students in areas including reading, peer-mediated learning. These methods
individualized educational program are math, English learning, social behavior, have been demonstrated repeatedly to
delivered. and content area learning (Harris & improve the learning of the entire class;
Meltzer, 2015; Mastropieri & Scruggs, in in some instances, students with
PASS variables.  Effective, explicit press, chap. 9; Regan, Evmenova, disabilities have improved more, so
teaching strategies are essential to Mastropieri, & Scruggs, 2015). Among that their performance is more similar
maximizing learning in inclusive the most successful strategies are to that of students without disabilities
classrooms (Archer & Hughes, 2011). peer-assisted learning strategies (PALS) after tutoring (Scruggs, 2012).
Mastropieri and Scruggs (in press) and classwide peer tutoring (CWPT;
referred to what they termed the PASS e.g., Fuchs & Fuchs, 2005: Greenwood, Reliable Resources
variables: prioritize objectives; adapt 1997).
As co-teachers progress in their ability
the environment, materials, instruction, Although PALS and CWPT are
to collaborate well and deliver explicit
and evaluation; systematically teach; different forms of intensive instruction
instruction, they will naturally need
and systematically evaluate. First, that require several weeks to
additional resources. The IRIS Center
special education co-teachers can work implement in full, they share similar
of Vanderbilt University (http://iris.
with general education teachers to features that make them especially
peabody.vanderbilt.edu/) provides
identify and prioritize the most beneficial for a classroom where
some excellent resources, including
important objectives, so that teaching co-teaching is implemented. To
modules and videos, on the practice of
of these objectives can be emphasized. summarize, all students with and
co-teaching. TEACHING Exceptional
Then, special education teachers can without disabilities are divided into
Children also has printed many useful
suggest and implement adaptations to tutoring dyads and taught to (a)
articles on co-teaching, on a variety of
help ensure these objectives are met. practice important content with each
topics. For example, Fenty, McDuffie-
Next, both teachers can use the other and (b) monitor their progress.
Landrum, and Fisher (2012) described
following principles of effective Co-teaching partners can work
the use of a question-and-answer
instruction to deliver content in the collaboratively in planning and
strategy during co-teaching in literacy
most effective method possible: implementing cooperative learning
classes.
structure, clarity, redundancy, activities, with the special education
enthusiasm, appropriate rate of teacher providing the lead if he or she
instruction, and maximized learner is more familiar with the procedures. Final Thoughts
engagement. More specifically, co-teachers identify After reviewing detailed descriptive
Finally, special education teachers can prioritized content, develop and adapt research on the practice of co-teaching
take a leading role in evaluating the materials, and monitor the in classrooms across the country,
outcomes of instruction, not only implementation of the tutoring process. Scruggs and colleagues (2007)
determining how progress is being made Co-teachers might find it helpful to concluded that “classroom instruction
but identifying problem areas in need of divide responsibility for these tasks. has generally continued as whole class
further corrective action. Table 2 provides For example, because Mrs. Cataldo is and lecture driven, and special
a listing of problem areas commonly trained in strategies that are specifically education co-teachers have generally
encountered in inclusive classrooms and helpful for students with disabilities, attempted to fit within this model.” (p.
possible roles associated with general she might take the lead on preparing 214). Further, effective special
education and special education teachers materials needed for peer-mediated education practices (e.g., strategy
in collaborating to address these problem instruction (e.g., progress-monitoring instruction, self-monitoring and
areas. Figure 1 provides a sample lesson forms) and teaching the students, and organizational skills training, study
plan, with roles for each component Mr. Smith, the procedures for a skills training) were only rarely
associated with general education and particular strategy. Realizing that she observed. Research published since
special education teachers. does not have the same level of content that time suggests these are still
area expertise and knowledge of the important issues to be addressed in
Peer-mediated instruction.  In general curriculum as her co-teacher, co-taught classes (King-Sears &
addition to providing explicit Mrs. Cataldo might ask Mr. Smith to Bowman-Kruhm, 2011; Takacs, 2015).

290 Council for Exceptional Children


Table 2.  Possible General and Special Education Teacher Roles in Common Target Areas

Target
area Description General education teacher role Special education teacher role

Content Problems involving learning • Establish curriculum objectives • Support prioritized objectives to
learning the curriculum sufficiently and prioritize those objectives to help ensure students focus on most
maximize learning for the entire important objectives.
class.
• Design and direct curriculum and
instruction for the whole class.

Pace of Problems learning the • Focus on most significant content • Support pace of learning; help
learning curriculum in the amount of first; reorganize curriculum to arrange additional time in or out of
time allocated address pace issues. class when needed to help maintain
• Direct classroom instruction so that pace of learning.
appropriate pace is maintained to • Arrange more intensive learning
maximize learning. strategies; design peer mediation.

Language Problems with key • Identify most important vocabulary; • Implement direct instruction; design
vocabulary and other support special education teacher. and develop experiential activities,
language-based aspects of • Identify when language strategies vocabulary cards or word walls,
learning would benefit the entire class. peer tutoring with flash cards; teach
root words and word families.
• Design mnemonic strategies,
vocabulary practice activities to
take home; implement progress
monitoring.

Factual Problems acquiring • Prioritize and identify most • Provide drill and practice with
learning important factual important factual information; prioritized factual learning
information in allocated time support special education teacher. objectives; design classwide
• Identify when learning strategies peer tutoring activities with “fact
would benefit the whole class. sheets.”
• Design visual-spatial learning
strategies and illustrations; use
mnemonics and other elaborative
learning strategies.

Concept Problems acquiring relevant • Introduce new concepts to whole • Implement direct teaching and
learning concepts class; check for understanding. feedback, discrimination learning,
• Use experiential learning, video and provision of relevant rules,
technology support when needed. multiple examples, instances and
• Support special education teacher. noninstances, manipulatives,
• Identify when concept learning exercises and activities.
strategies would benefit the entire
class.

Literacy Literacy problems relevant • Plan instruction that places less • Implement text-to-speech readers
to grade-level textbook emphasis on independent reading or audio text; use speech-to-
from text. text for written responses; read
• Support special education teacher. text with small groups; arrange
• Identify when literacy or resource room support; implement
comprehension strategies would peer tutoring or assistance; teach
benefit the entire class. comprehension and self-monitoring
strategies.
(continued)

TEACHING Exceptional Children  |  March/April 2017  291


Table 2.  (continued)

Target
area Description General education teacher role Special education teacher role

Study Problems with effective • Help students identify important • Teach note taking, highlighting,
skills study of classroom content information during lecture and and outlining strategies, and use of
and materials activities and provide suggestions guided notes and partial outlines.
to entire class for note taking, • Teach use of graphic organizers
highlighting, and outlining. for complicated content; teach use
• Support special education teacher. of self-monitoring sheets for study
• Identify when study strategies strategies; teach test-taking skills.
would benefit the entire class. • Design tutoring pairs for study and
review of course content.

Social Problems with classroom • Implement classroom behavior • Use behavior management
behavior behavior or sustaining management strategies; identify strategies, such as physical
attention students in need of behavior proximity, to target students; direct
management. appeals; individual point sheets
• Support special education with rewards for good behavior;
teacher; identify when behavior and self-monitoring sheets for
management strategies would attention problems.
benefit the entire class. • Maintain communication with
• Support the implementation of parents, develop individual
schoolwide behavior management contracts, and oversee possible
systems. temporary removal from classroom
activities.

Note. Research support for the practices described in this table is provided in Mastropieri and Scruggs (in press).

Given these challenges, what particular content area or skill. The & D. P. Hallahan (Eds.), Handbook of
concrete steps can beginning (and most effective special education special education (pp. 147–159). New
experienced) special educators take? co-teachers are accomplished in York, NY: Routledge.
Effective co-teaching depends on identifying specific problem areas with Cook, L., & Friend, M. (1995). Co-teaching:
co-teachers engaging in a true respect to the specific content being Guidelines for creating effective
practices. Focus on Exceptional Children,
partnership, in which the special taught and curriculum being proposed.
28(3), 1–16.
education teacher helps design and They also serve as effective advocates
Fenty, N. S., McDuffie-Landrum,
implement the validated strategies for students with special needs and are
K., & Fisher, G. (2012). Using
known to be effective with students able to recommend changes in collaboration, co-teaching, and question
with disabilities and other special curriculum and classroom procedures answer relationships to enhance
educational needs. Collaborating with that do not threaten the general content area literacy. TEACHING
general education teachers and education teacher but will lead directly Exceptional Children, 44, 28–37.
administrators, and demonstrating the to a more successful co-taught doi:10.1177/004005991204400603
utility of the skills special educators classroom for all students. Fuchs, D., & Fuchs, L. S. (2005).
can bring, can help improve the Peer-assisted learning strategies:
process. Special education teachers Promoting word recognition,
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